Hello everyone. I am momentarily breaking from my "all-unopened-all-unheard piles of music" posts. The reason being that I have been desperately trying to find my collection of recordings by the Baltimore Consort for a few years already. I was simply overjoyed to find them in a box that also includes a large part of Dorian's early music discography with other ensembles, all musical museum-worthy treasures to me. I am extremely fond of each and every disc. Dorian's early music artists and special attention to all sorts of tunes of yore are second to none, in my opinion.
There are hundreds of magnificent recordings on all kinds of labels large and small; but somehow the Dorian offerings always seem to have a certain "TLC" from production to playing. For me there's a "personal" ambience to the musical merrymaking-I feel as if I've been invited to sit in person to experience the joyful noyse as it unfolds..it's hard to explain really! "On The Banks Of Helicon" is where my introduction to the Baltimore Consort began. I was managing a classical record shop at this time, and although this disc had been available for a couple of years at the time I never heard it before, nor had I heard of The Baltimore Consort. This initial taste was quite the profound musical experience and in some ways, helped to alter my life outlook (this is 'soul' music that helped me and continues to help me ward off the constant 'darkness' that I usually feel inside) during the 1990's and indelibly colored the daily happenings in my little life, both mundane and special. Thanks especially to the Baltimore Consort, I quickly became an early music freak, learning all that I could about the musics, their varied and rich histories, and most exciting of all perhaps-immersing myself in study of an anthropological nature. Everything from plainchant and other monophonic song to Terpsichorean dances (as in early or ancient dance music, not only the 300+ works of Praetorius) to the pillars of Renaissance polyphony, Cantigas (especially the important collection by Alfonso X of Castille), Sephardic songs and tunes, the songbooks of Spain and Germany, and all areas of Medieval music in general etc. etc. simply gripped and fascinated me. Add to all this historically informed performance and modern artistic interpretation (what we know about music and its performance tends to decrease as we look farther backward in time, and thus endless amounts of compositions are often played in strikingly different ways, with a wide range of instruments both historic and modern; this makes the possibilities very exciting but can also be frustrating to musicologists and historians) and it's a real universe. In summation, I live to celebrate the existence of too much treasure... then again 'too much' is a thing not possible. :)
Most of the Scottish music on this disc is over 400 years old, yet it can strike our ears as "contemporary" in its freshness and originality. The Scottish composers, whose names are mostly lost or at least separated from their original compositions, had a gift for expressive melody indeed. Although French and English influence was strong in courtly circles, the imported genres of dance, chanson and accompanied song were transformed into a product uniquely Scottish. In the 16th century, the court of Scotland, like its counterparts to the south, fostered sophisticated musical arts ("music fyne") of church polyphony, courtly song and instrumental consort music. All Scottish rules in that turbulent century loved music and poetry, but the political and religious pressures that determined their marriages and brought so much pain into their lives also affected the course of Scottish musical history. James V's French brides (the first died a year after arriving in 1537) were responsible for a significant importation of French music. The Scottish reformation (1560), with its espousal of simple psalm-like singing in the language of the congregation, eventually brought to an end the institutional patronage of elaborate polyphonic Latin church music. There were, however, secular musicians and poets attached to Mary, Queen of Scots, and to her son, James VI, who produced simpler songs and instrumental consorts of great beauty. James Lauder, whose "Paven" dedicated to the Lord of March (1584) is one of the few datable and attributable works of this period, is thought to have been a player of viols and virginals. As James VI grew old enough to assume independence, he gathered about him a group of poets led by Alexander Montgomerie (author of "Lyk as the dum solsequium" and "Come my children dere"). Court patronage was lost altogether in Scotland when James moved south to succeed the childless Elizabeth I as King of England.
It is in the traditional native airs that we hear the typically Scottish melodic features of the gapped scale and the rhythmic figure known as the "Scots snap". As early as the 17th century, aristocrats such as John Skenes of Hallyards had set about collecting and preserving these haunting melodies. English art song had begun to filter into Scotland, but the most significant development was the Scot's
intensified interest in collecting and writing down their own traditional music, including bagpipe and fiddle tunes. "The flowres of the forrest", perhaps the most famous of the Skene MS tunes on this recording, refers to the tragic Battle of Flodden Field (1513), in which the "flower of Scottish manhood" was cut down (including the young king James IV). On this disc there is a potpourri of "music fyne", traditional native airs, and English imitations of the latter. The courtly "music fyne" reveals the stylistic ties between the Scottish and the French repertoires: "Support your servand" is a translation of Clement Marot's "Secourez-moy, madame, par amours". "Our Father God celestial" is a metrical paraphrase of The Lord's Prayer sung to the music of a four-part chanson, "Je suis desheritee" by Pierre Cadeac. "O lustie May" is set to a French-style galliard. The boisterous late-15th century "My heartly service", one of my personal favorites here-has been described as a French
"fricassee" (a jumble of ingredients) above an obstinate bass. In this amusing piece, originally associated with an ancient ceremony in which herdsmen dressed as beasts pulled a plow to mark the beginning of the plowing year, two voices call out the names of oxen as well as their fellow herdsmen, and then enumerate the parts of the plow.
Beginning early in the 17th century, the English developed a taste for "Northern tunes". "The Scots March" is one of many such titles in the virginal manuscripts. "Joy to the person that I love" (the beautiful song that ends this disc) found its way into English broadsides. The Playfords, especially, began to include music "after the Scotch humour" in their publications. The swaying "Scotch Cap", another favorite of mine, is one of several Scots-style tunes in the 'English Dancing Master' of 1651. By the end of the century, famous composers such as Purcell (in his "Birthday Ode for Queen Mary") and Nicola Matteis ("Ground after a Scotch humor") had tried their hand at arranging Scottish melodies, and the Playfords had published 'A collection of Original Scotch Tunes: Full of Highland Humours for the violin' (1700). Thomas D'Urfey's "Wit and Mirth: or Pills to Purge Melancholy" (1st edition, 1698) was the first English publication to contain both words and music of Scots songs (some written by Englishmen, others originating in Scotland). The cheerful "Jockey loves his Moggy dearly" is typical of the English forays into Scots dialect (and another favorite of mine now that I think of it).
The instruments used here are similar to those known to have been popular at the Scottish court. An inventory of Holyrood House (the court residence) shows that the court owned a lute, a cittern, a bandora and viols, which are the instruments that formed the core of the Baltimore Consort, especially during the early 1990's. Also added on this recording are flutes and a single-drone bagpipe of a type which was common throughout Europe for centuries. The words of most songs here are in 'Scots', a dialect which was not only spoken, but flourished as a literary language in the 16th century. It is actually very close to English and can be understood by English speaking people (as long as a few specialized words are defined and conventions of spelling are understood).
I think (or hope) the moment the bagpipe sounds on "Over the hills" most listeners will sit up, intrigued with wonder-and once "Kathren Oggie" dances its way in-surely the magic has been set!